Articles on IITs

Defining the IIT brand

It is useful to recall the circumstances in which it was born, and subsequently nurtured. Although the Nalini Ranjan Sarkar Committee had submitted its report in 1946, it was after independence that action was taken on the report. Therefore, it was free India’s first professional institution, conceived of and built by Indians for the unique developmental needs of a free India.

The N R Sarkar Committee used global benchmarking to define standards without knowing the term by stating, "the proposed institutes should attain a standard not less than Manchester and Massachusetts". There was value seen in the use of international faculty as evidenced by the presence of Professor R A Kraus and Professor H Tischner in the original academic team.

The word brand was not used those days, but Brand IIT evolved through the consistent and credible actions of the early leaders. The vision was articulated in very rich words by N R Sarkar at the time of the inauguration in August 1951 when he wrote, "IIT must build a high tradition, on which its future success must depend..." The first director, Dr J C Ghosh, said about the skill to be taught, "...capacity to organise thought, to correlate facts and ideas logically, and express them well...".

To assess the results of 51 years of IIT, one has relied on published literature, as well as on a specially designed Quick Brand Survey (QBS). In the QBS, 50 IITians were interviewed from all the institutes, across age groups, but mostly from the corporate world.

The alumni have spoken very evocatively about what this brand is all about: India’s biggest, global brand; after IIT, it was a cakewalk at IIMC, Harvard and Carnegie Mellon. Narayana Murthy explained how his son could not secure admission into IIT, so he went to the Ivy League School at Cornell instead! CBS anchor Lesley Stahl described the summation of Harvard, MIT and Princeton as representing an idea of the status of IIT.

During the QBS interview, IIT-ans were asked about their top-of-the-mind, spontaneous recall with respect to IIT. Four themes emerged: superlative students, door opener, meritocracy, not just studies. These are exemplified by actual quotations that are very evocative and powerful.

In the QBS, respondents were asked to describe the images in their minds. They used words and expressions that meant speed, brightness, energy, life, hope and so on. The imagery is of a resplendent island in an ocean that is only lightly bathed in faint moonlight. Perhaps exaggerated, but real imagery! In responding to what feelings IIT evoked in them, respondents spoke in paradoxical terms: superiority, pride and accomplishment accompanied by humility! When asked what unique contributions IIT had made to their development, they chose five themes: problem-solving attitude, education to handle life, high standards, spirit of community and challenging. It is difficult to achieve these even by design, so truly they are fantastic outcomes.

If somehow we could replicate these outcomes in more educational institutions in this country, truly it can be said that we would have an unstoppable India. Let us remember one thing about marketing and branding. It does not matter how much other people agree or disagree with these views of IITians, the purveyors or carriers of Brand IIT. These words used by IITians reflect a reality about their own mindsets and attitudes. And that is what defines the essence of the IIT brand.

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